The Househunter: Room by Room

Every now and then RightMove does a round up of the most unusual properties on the market at the moment and this month they include a windmill, a castle, a water tower, a converted church and an unconverted church and a bungalow that has been transformed into a Venetian Palace. Oh yes. You need to see this, follow the link back there to have a gander.

In the meantime, I thought we could look around one of the featured houses which is this seven bedroom Manor House, on the market for £1.5m via Bradley Hall. It’s in Seaham, Co Durham and there are lots of decorative features which we have spoken about on these pages before and sometimes it can be useful to see them illustrated as well as interesting to have a nosy round someone else’s house.

So let’s begin in this rather magnificent entrance hall. And the first thing to note in here, and indeed in every room pictured (there are seven bedrooms I haven’t checked them all!) is the absence of white paint. That is on the woodwork, which has been mostly painted in a dark grey.

Now I think it looks modern and cool (which is always good in a period property) but note also how it frames the views of the adjoining rooms – particularly when there are glass doors, which, if left white, might look a little old fashioned. In addition, the space – and it’s a large one – wouldn’t have any definition. The grey provides that punctuation and doesn’t make it dark as the walls are white – or a version thereof. It doesn’t have to be grey either – dark green, navy blue, even a dark chocolate brown can work. Or you can go the other way completely and use a brighter shade- orange or pink – just make sure it coordindates with your furniture or it might be a bit cartoon.

Obviously couldn’t let this room go with its gold painted plasterwork. I mean yes it’s a grand house with a grand ceiling but given that I have just painted a whole ceiling gold I don’t think the lack of a foot of moulding need preclude us from being daring with a tin of paint. Just make sure, that you tie the gold in somewhere else if your room isn’t as grand as this.

You will need to give it a reason for being gold so add a mirror, or make sure the legs of the coffee table are brass or something like that. And, it goes without saying, unless you want it to look like the aforementioned Venetian bungalow, keep the furniture very simple. I think, in the absence of a ceiling like this it’s probably best kept to a bedroom rather than the sitting room. You want it to look like you were having fun and not like you are an exiled Macedonian Princess who hasn’t got over the shock.

Now moving into the bar which most of us – I assume – don’t have room for although plenty of people squeeze them into a corner and they can look great. But I just wanted you to look at the wallpaper. Or it might be painted but the point is the walls are quite sober and dark (and match the woodwork) and then the bar is an explosion of colour but it’s quite low down so it’s not, literally, in your face, which can be stressful.

Just a quick head round the door into the sitting room and note – still no white paint as the ceiling matches the walls which makes for a cohesive look and also keeps it calmer given the strong woodwork. Two colours can be easier on the eye than three. Note also – no rug island so there are distinct zones to this large room – sitting and chatting all on that one rug, piano and then another sofa which is apart from the rest in its own zone – perhaps for reading.

Finally, in a recent podcast (notes here) we spoke about lighting and how, if you want spotlights in the sitting room then put then round the edges to create soft ambient light when they are dimmed. You also put one over the piano – perhaps on its switch so that just that part of room would be lit when someone was playing. Substitute piano for coffee table etc in your own house.

Finally, I want to talk about feature walls. Which I have done a lot but these two pictures sum it up really well. Below, this pink floral wallpaper is very pretty. And it goes over the chimney breast – which is a common enough tactic. But the chimney breast is in the corner of the room and you’ve got to admit it looks a bit random here. Far, far better to do the whole room, or half the walls or…..

Create a dramatic headboard effect as they have done here with a large panel of wallpaper behind the bed. And I’m not even going to mention the rugs skirting the edge of the bed in the image above. Oh, I just did. I’m a huge fan of wallpaper and I also understand that sometimes you don’t want to cover the whole room in a colour of pattern, but do try and come up with a reason for the part of the room you choose.

And if the walls are weird shapes and you can’t make it work then either that’s a sign that the feature wall is wrong in that room or you should do the ceiling. This pattern works in any direction and would look amazing on the ceiling.

Right that’s this week decorating dilemmas and if you’ve got this far can I just say that’s it’s a year today since the book came out. It has been in the top 2000 selling books on Amazon for the year (often in the top 1000) and at No 1 in the Decorative Arts section since it came out. It’s now on its fifth reprint. Thank you all so much those of you who have bought it and those of you who have read these pages every day and every week over the last seven years. You made the book possible and I can’t ever thank you enough for that and for your continued support. The next one will be out this time next year…..


Tags : Bradley Hallhousehuntermanor houseSeven bedroom houseUnusual properties
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. The book is a triumph Kate, deservedly so.

    The house shown is not…..poor princess was most probably a prisoner in it!!

    1. You beat me to it. I had exactly the same reaction as you when I read that sentence! I can just see her with a long straight nose and jet black hair reclining sideways on one of those sofas.

Comments are closed.